It will be an emotion-ridden nostalgic journey back in time when a handsome 66-year-old man attired in white flannels walks into Gymkhana Ground today. The moment will be frozen for posterity because it will mark the cricketer’s completion of 50 fruitful years during which period he earned plaudits and accolades from the best in contemporary business and has his share of agonies and ecstasies because he breathed cricket, something that he still does with the enthusiasm of a teenager just taking to the game.
Gymkhana has been specifically chosen by him for the ‘emotional’ match (it was allotted after a considerable gap) because, “It feels great to play here as it is my home ground. I started playing for SUCC in the HCA league in the sixties,” explains the player, who belongs to the old school of thought.
It will be a day when he will reflect on the highs and lows of a career that was somehow not given its due share of recognition by who have you. Perhaps, providence also had a role to play because the tall and lanky master of off-spin arrived on the scene when a bowler of the calibre of EAS Prasanna was around with magical bag of tricks.
The man in question (old-timers will go to any lengths to talk about his exploits) Noshir Mehta has no qualms though because he takes pride in the fact that he could establish himself, albeit at the domestic level, even while rubbing shoulders with the then national heroes Prasanna, Bishan Singh Bedi, Bapu Nadkarni and BS Chandrashekar when he was a starry-eyed teenager bidding his time.
That very promise saw him earn an envious regular berth in Hyderabad’s famed Ranji Trophy squads from 1966 to 1977 that was inter-laced with outings in Moin-ud-Dowla. He played in 57 first-class matches and accounted for 147 dismissals in 43 Ranji outings, since debuting against Tamil Nadu in the 1966-67 Season. More than numerical quantity, he brought about a refreshingly languid quality, which was to the fore when he played on pitches in Australia, Ceylon and East Africa among other countries that he visited as part of Hyderabad Blues teams.
An early Ranji baptism was denied when his father SR Mehta, who was the chairman of Hyderabad Cricket Association, refused him the cap as he was deemed too raw for shouldering the responsibility. Noshir forged a potent combination with left-arm wrist spinner Mumtaz Hussain.
On his spin-twin, with whom he won several matches for Hyderabad, Noshir points out, “We did not compete but complemented each other. Mumtaz had a problem bowling to left-handers and he would ask me to bowl a maiden over while he would attack the other batsman. He did ditto when I failed to get any purchases.”
Among his memorable matches, the former captain-selector of State Bank of HYderabad ranks the wins he scripted single-handedly against Karnataka and later Tamil Nadu in 1971. “The proudest moment was when Nadkarni patted me after I scalped him with a motivational parting shot that I had tremendous potential for a young spinner,” recalls Noshir with a twinkle in his eyes as he slogs it out at Gymkhana to have a go at Hyderabad Panthers batsmen representing Roshanara in Sunday’s A-Division one-day league championship.
The next year saw him achieve yet another milestone when he was part of the Rest of India team that played Ajit Wadekar-led West Indies and England conquering Indian squad at Calcutta.
However, for one who has taken both the good and bad in his stride all through his career and moved on, even he feels hurt seeing the deteriorating standards of Hyderabad cricket, both in terms of talent and administrative promotional avenues.
“Apart from a dearth of match-winning bowers, the present Hyderabad squad has none who finds meritorious berths in the zonal squads, which is pitiably pathetic. This is largely because the league standards have touched the nadir,” laments Noshir who never misses the national Parsi tournaments.
About the possible remedial measures, he says that HCA should utilise services of experienced cricketers, especially at the Under-14 and 16 age-group levels. Presently, he is a spin bowling coach at the HCA Academy of Excellence.
“As for myself, I am more than keen to take up the mantle,” avers Noshir, who, in fact, volunteers to train youngsters of his own accord in the interiors.
Noshir, whose craze for bikes (wife willing, he aspires to zoom on the roads on a superbike) took-off even before MS Dhoni was born, was seen in a brief role in the cricket-themed Iqbal “to oblige at my friend, Nagesh Kuknoor.”
In the good old days when romance for the gentleman’s game was all of passion the associations would organise farewell matches for those who symbolised longevity as a thanksgiving gesture.
Alas, what is painful but true in this particular case is that the old warhorse can expect nothing of the sort to commemorate a very productive 50 years of active league cricket during which time he not only played with ML Jaisimha but also his sons. But then Noshir Mehta is not the kind to go into remorse and regret the unkind cut. A thoroughbred gentleman, he is, after all, humility personified.